Cocaine bust highlights growing Air Force role in Southern hemisphere

U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.

U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.

The line of cocaine the Air Force and Joint Interagency Task Force-South seized last month in the Caribbean would stretch “from the Pentagon to the center of Philadelphia.”

The Air Force’s top civilian shared that detail with reporters Wednesday when describing how the service is working harder to train pilots in the Southern hemisphere while aiding the global anti-drug war.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service is looking for ways to use more assets in the Southern Command region that would be “of training benefit to our forces, but also contributing to counter drug and counter transnational crime commission.”

“The idea of all of this was to see if we could get more of a double ‘bang for your buck,’ ” James said at a Pentagon briefing.

And during a five-day training operation, they did.

Led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, commander of the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, the service and the Key West, Florida-based task force seized 6,100 kilograms (13,448 pounds) of cocaine between Aug. 22-26, James said.

The large-scale air operation in the Caribbean included a number of U.S. aircraft, including HC-130s, DH-8s, B-1Bs, B-52s, AWACS, JSTARS, Global Hawks, KC-135s and KC-10s, James said. Space and cyber assets “were also brought into the mix,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

The use of airpower as well as the other partners in the interagency effort led to the seizure of as much as $500 million worth of the cocaine and the arrest of 17 drug traffickers by appropriate authorities, James said.

In March, a B-1B Lancer flew a low pass over a drug smuggling boat in the Caribbean Sea, prompting those onboard to dump 500 kilos of cocaine into the deep blue.

The secretary visited command units in April to discuss the potential for more training operations in Latin America.

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